Hundreds of Bahamians were left with disappointment and confused on Sunday night when they were forced to exit a ferry headed towards Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Freeport to find relief after Hurricane Dorian hit the island last week.
After being informed that they would need their Bahamian passports and documents to show they did not have a criminal record to board, evacuees were told at the last minute by ferry company, Balearia they had to get off if they did not have U.S. visas, according to Miami station WSVN.
“Passengers who do not have U.S. visas, please proceed to disembark,” a ferry employee said.
Ferry employees said they were informed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to make the announcement even after passengers waited in line for hours and bought tickets for more than $100. In return, U.S. Customs and Border Protection blamed the ferry crew, claiming that the employees informed them that they did not want to transport the evacuees.
“I think this is terrible. I think they should allow everyone to come into the U.S.,” said a passenger that tried to evacuate. “They originally said that you could come without a police record and without a visa and now they’re taking that back. That’s really ridiculous.”
When the ferry reached Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stood by their statement and said it was up to Balearia, the station reports. Officials also said that if the evacuees were brought over, they all would have had to been processed individually, which would have taken too much time and “slowed their schedule down.”
“I think it’s important to note that if those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them,” Customs and Border Protection Acting Port Direction, Stephen Silvestri said. “I think it was a business decision by Balearia to remove them. They were not ordered off the boat by any government entity.”
Sadly, because of the heartbreaking news, the evacuees now have to find a new way to leave their island that was left in ruins by Hurricane Dorian.